Late last year I was surfing a creative high. I’d gotten through the outlining process of a novel and had begun writing. The characters and ideas were slamming into each other, fighting to get out of my head and onto the page. I had to force myself into bed late one night in mid-December after a really awesome writing session. I remember closing my eyes totally pumped for where my story was going. Sometime in the middle of that night I was awoken by my cell phone. My mother was on the other end of that 3 a.m., phone call with news of my grandmother’s passing. I was shocked, heartbroken, and I soon fell into what I can only describe as a melancholy.
Writing and storytelling have always been my escape. They were the way I sorted out the ideas in my mind and made sense of the world. I thought often of writing of her, and what she meant to me. About how I was coping with the loss of her. I tried once or twice. The blinking cursor only reminded me of a heart that no longer beat.
The words, instead of falling off my fingertips and onto the page, had been swept away, as if in a landslide. For weeks now I’ve contemplated this “writer’s block”. Not really understanding why no new ideas had come to me. Why the desire to write though ever present, wasn’t strong enough to pull me away from the mundane day to day things that occupy so much of my time.
I can’t say for certain, why I’ve not been able to write, but I imagine it’s got a lot to do with her passing. My grief over her loss had placed me in some sort of writer’s purgatory. For a long time I felt like the words which always came so easily to me had drowned.
In many ways my grandmother gave me my first stories. She didn’t read me fairy tales from big tomes, or bedtime stories with cute characters in them. Instead, she told me stories of her life. She was born in Massachusetts during the great depression, and her entire childhood was marked by it. She regaled me with stories of trips with her sister to the movies for 10 cents. She told me of dances with boys, and what life was like coming of age during the Second World War. At 18 years old, right after graduating from high school she was hired on as an operator for a telephone company. She helped support her family with her income. My grandmother worked for a telephone company in some capacity until she retired when she was in her early 50’s. I benefited from her early retirement. While my mother was at work nursing sick patients, she’d take me to the library, where we’d spend hours reading; I lost in The Secret Garden, and she browsing the newspaper or magazines. On walks after dinner on summer nights she’d let me tell her stories about leopards who turned into princesses who saved kingdoms, as I picked Hibiscus flowers off of bushes we passed for her.
She was a woman before her time. Instead of an early marriage, she chose to work, and married in her thirties. A decade or so later she was widowed. She raised her four children, independently, working to support herself and them as she’d done for her mother and siblings years before. My grandmother was part of “the Greatest Generation” and she was a strong independent woman with true grit.
I think in the struggle to raise her children alone, she may not have had as much of a chance to simply play with them as she would’ve liked, and so with me, she did. She’d let me clunk around in her heels as she snapped her Wrigley’s Peppermint Chewing Gum, while watching Laurence Welk. Not minding the noise or the puffs of powder I’d sprinkled all over my face while playing dress up.
I believe she allowed me to see a part of herself she rarely showed anyone. A part of her that was a dreamer, who would spin me around as we danced to tunes on an ancient record player. I can still hear her say, “C’mon Nicole, dance a jig with me.” when I’d become a teen, and thought myself too old to dance with my Gram. Inevitably I would though, and I’m glad I did. I would love to have her take my hand, and spin me around one last time…
The thing about last times is we never really know when they’re going to happen. So we forget to savor them, and record the details we’ll want to recall later. The wonderful thing about her is that I have so much to recall. So much of her to share with her great-grandchildren, to think about when my phone rings and it’s not her on the other end of the line _____________ ♥.
Eight-hundred-and forty-four words, that’s all it took, like bubbles escaping from my lungs to bring me with them back to the surface. It seems such an insignificant number when writing about a person who influenced so much of my life. Yet I think they’re enough, (for now anyway) for me to find my way back to the words. I’ve accepted she’s gone, and realize now, that I had to swim through this dead sea of writing nothingness to be able to float back up to where the words live.
Growing up, I listened to a lot of Fleetwood Mac, my mom is a huge fan of Stevie Nicks, and whenever I’m homesick for my mom, I listen to Stevie. Needless to say, I’ve been listening to her a lot, and I’ve actually become a fan too. In a lot of ways this song is symbolic of my grief and how it’s affected me, my writing, and how I’m coming to terms with it.